Remembering 9/11 at VFS

On 9/11 I was Program Manager/Administrator at the Vancouver Film School New Media department (now transmogrified many times since then). It was the start of the new term, and when I arrived at work that morning, my assistant came quickly out of the office saying, “It’s World War 3.”

I thought there was one of the usual administrative problems. But there was a cluster of instructors in the hallway, and soon it became more than clear: something big was happening.

Students were sitting in the main theater, which was playing a live tv news feed onto the big theater screen. Some were going along as normal waiting for their class. Instructors were asking, “What do we do?” People were frightened.

I flashed on Britain, wartime, a strong cup of tea, and said, just teach the classes as usual, and those who want to, or who are American can watch the news. I went into each classroom, and told them we were carrying on, no one knew what was happening, and we were waiting to see what would happen next.

I told them that they could phone their parents and relatives in the US if they needed to, or leave if they needed to. I gave some students messages from their parents who had called the school already.

Then word came from the main administration, a “communications statement”, and the directive that students not watch the news in the theater. This was difficult for us. So we kept the feed going on through the tvs that were all mounted along the main hallway.

I remember a young student from Pakistan standing beside me looking up at the news, in shock. She said she was concerned that now her people would be blamed. At that time, I couldn’t believe that would happen.

I recall that I asked for the CBC newsfeed, thinking that it might be a little less frightening and inflammatory than CNN. It was all shocking, scary, unbelievable.

We all called our close ones, carried on with the day as best we could, and close to the end of the day, the head of the school came by with the communications person. By then the news had been absorbed, and we were going into the next phase, the repeated viewing over and over again of the events. And the mention of the name, Osama bin Laden.

An Israeli student in the 3D Animation department set up a gathering about a week later, for us to remember and connect together. She said it was common in Israel to do this when there was a bombing, and that it was a real help.

I was surprised that noon hour to see very few (if any) members of the staff, but the head of the school at that time was there, and we stood there with the students for that significant time. Even the students who came to this were just a small number compared to the total enrollment. I don’t believe many were aware of how truly world-changing these tragic events were.

So today, so many years later, I felt I should mark that time in memory.

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